A lot of people in this world have no greater enemy than themselves. It could be said that we all do. Shonn Greene, the 5’11 235 lb. running back for the Iowa Hawkeyes knows that first hand. Before he could juke out of the reach of linebackers and opposing safeties, he had to get out of his own way. That job was, by far, the hardest.
In 2007, Greene, a running back from little known Sickerville New Jersey was a junior at Iowa University on a football scholarship. He hadn’t found his niche in the college experience, and that spring he lost his academic eligibility at Iowa. Listed on the depth chart as a 2nd stringer before leaving, without a degree and fumbling for a direction he took a job moving furniture in a store just down the road from Kinnick stadium, a place where he had spent to previous year striving to power his way through opposing lines and defenders. His running style had produced only 69 carries in his first two seasons: he had trouble putting in the hours that study and football together required and he wasn’t sure where he wanted his life to go.
His football career was so uncertain that he had been moved from running back to defensive back during 2006 bowl preparation. That was such a mediocre year for him that he produced only 32 carries for 205 yards and 1 TD, not much better than his 37 carries for 173 yards his freshman year. His per carry average was 6.4 yards as a sophomore though, so there was a faint spark burning there. Could that light a blaze? When he was listed as second team running back following spring practice and saw his grades sinking, he bowed before the pressure.
But in the harsh light of florescent bulbs and stacks of furniture, it wasn’t too long before he figured it out. He would much rather carry footballs than furniture. Returning in 2008 as a junior, it wasn’t long before opposing DCs would have preferred that he made a different decision.
"It wasn't a pleasant feeling. It motivated me," Greene said. "It was something I had to do to get back to school and get back to playing."
The year that Shonn spent at Kirkwood Community College (which doesn’t even have a football team), toiling in the furniture store while working on his academic eligibility lit a fire under the young man. At the same time, without a solid running game the Iowa Hawkeyes finished 92nd in the nation in rushing offense and 94 in passing offense in 2007.Their record fell to a meager 6-6. Still uncertain, Greene even missed spring 2008 practice. Suddenly, both sides needed each other. In the 2008 season they joined forces to make their opponents miserable.
It still wasn’t easy. Iowa opened its 2008 year with a 3-4 record. Iowa's coaches vacillated between quarterbacks Ricky Stanzi and Jake Christensen for 4 games. They eventually went with the spohomore, Stanzi, and decided to chance it with the young quarterback.
The sole bright spot at this point was that Greene had managed to rush for over 100 yards in each game, a feat the continued throughout his season. Iowa would stiffen to win 5 of their last 6 games.
Greene outgained Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy in that game. He followed it by surpassing Michigan State's Javon Ringer, head-to-head. On Oct. 18, against Wisconsin and PJ Hill, he played a game that put him firmly on the Heisman radar. Greene’s final tally of 217 yards and 4 touchdowns resulted in a 38-16 win. Luke Meredith, an AP Sports writer, described it as,
"…a textbook example of Greene's power, speed and footwork. Green snuck through a pair of holes at the line, juked a defender out of his shoes in the open field, shook off another from behind like he wasn't even there, used a cutback to get past a third and sprinted past a fourth for the score."
Iowa would go on to rank second in the Big Ten with 30.9 points a game for the season. After the game, offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe laughed,
"We told Shonn before he went out there, 'We're going to run this play, and you're probably going to have to make the last five guys miss.' He said he was fine with that. It was pretty special."
Greene finished his year with a monstrous performance in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina. Prior to the game, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said,
"He's gained a whole bunch of yards. We're going to have to get a whole bunch of guys in there to slow him down. If he's not the best running back we've faced, he's one of the best."
It was prophetic. Greene rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns while helping his Hawkeyes provide South Carolina with a nice, old-fashioned beating of 31-10 in the Outback Bowl. Greene didn’t have that much to say afterwards. In fact, his experiences have left his apparently humbled and self-aware. He has a reputation for rarely saying much. His coaches are quick to take up the slack, though.
O’Keefe noted, "He's big, strong and powerful, and he's faster than you think."
Speaking about Greene’s noted reticence with a microphone, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz added, "I don’t think that’s his goal...He’s just out there trying to be as good a football player as he can be and help our team, and his attitude has been outstanding. Anyone who has seen him play knows that the numbers speak for themselves."
Speaking of numbers, in 2008 Shonn Greene rushed for 1850 yards on 307 attempts with 20 TDs. That’s not bad for a fellow who only had 69 rushes for 378 yards when the season began. It was a single season record at Iowa and earned Greene the Doak Walker Award.
What are his chances in the draft? Currently, some are projecting him as a low first rounder. Without a masterful showing at the combine, that seems unlikely. Not a lot of teams are looking for their featured rusher this year and Greene has a few things that should make scouts leery. He rarely caught a pass (11 receptions) so his hands are still suspect. His speed isn’t blazing – he’s been timed between 4.48 and 4.67, for a 4.58 average.
On the good side – rarely do you see a rusher with his stats who has such low ‘mileage’. He doesn’t shy away from contact, and rarely goes down on the first hit. He can juke like a dervish or plow ahead like a minesweeper. Given his size and power, some have even suggested him as a FB/H-Back although an H-Back should have established good hands. One blogger noted,
"I also love the way he runs, he's always tough to bring down on the first hit. He's got the perfect body for a RB reminds me of Michael Turner with a little less speed."
Iowa’s scheme didn’t have him blocking much, so we don’t know that side of him as well as teams may prefer. He’ll need a good showing in the combine, but he clearly has the size, the desire and the power to do the job.
But Shonn Greene has one thing going for him that a lot of backs don’t. He’s seen the life away from the limelight, seen life beyond the game of football and it’s filled with boxes, tables and couches, with warehouse lighting and concrete floors. He’s motivated. He’s a powerful young man, more quick than fast, talented but generally quiet and unassuming. For a late 2nd or a third round draft choice, he might be just what someone is looking for.
Shonn Greene is currently listed as the #3 RB by nfldraftreport.com.